Honorary doctorates for global thinkers Matthew Flinders and Robyn Eckersley

Utrecht University is set to honour social scientists Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield) and Robyn Eckersley (University of Melbourne) with honorary doctorates, in recognition of their fresh perspectives on democracy and the profound social impact of their research. The awards will be presented during the university’s 388th Dies Natalis, or birthday, on Tuesday, 26 March 2024.

The presentation can be seen live through the livestream of the Dies Natalis on 26 March 4pm.

“In a climate of growing public dissatisfaction with politics and plummeting levels of trust in democratic institutions, Matthew Flinders and Robyn Eckersley stand out as leading voices offering fresh perspectives on democracy's future,” says Henk Kummeling, Rector Magnificus of Utrecht University. “We are eager to host and honour these distinguished scholars, known for informing and stimulating the public debate around this essential topic through cutting-edge research and provocative insights.”

Matthew Flinders: Advocating for a Resilient Democracy

Portretfoto van Matthew Flinders
Prof. Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders, Professor of Politics and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield, emerges as a bold defender of democracy’s enduring value. In his award-winning book, "Defending Politics: Why Democracy Matters in the Twenty-First Century", Flinders promotes the achievements of democracy, challenging those who say democratic politics is broken. “Democratic politics delivers far more than most members of the public appear to acknowledge and understand,” he writes. “Would politics be interpreted as failing a little less if we all spent a little less time emphasising our individual rights and a little more time reflecting on our responsibilities to society and future generations?”

An optimistic outlook of democratic institutions

“Flinders is one of the leading researchers of his generation in the field of democratic politics. By challenging the public cynicism against politics and politicians, he offers a positive and optimistic outlook of democratic institutions,” says Utrecht University’s Professor Annelien de Dijn, one of Flinders’ honorary promoters. “That is of outmost relevance at a time when the rise of anti-establishment leaders and parties is challenging, or even eroding, the fundamental norms and values of democratic institutions,” adds co-promoter Professor Hanneke van Eijken.

Beyond academia, Flinders has demonstrated his commitment to the societal impact of research, authoring numerous influential books and contributing to documentaries that explore the vital intersection of politics and society. His recent publication, "Fit for the Future: Research Leadership Matters", seeks to reshape the understanding of academic leadership in the era of collaborative research.

Robyn Eckersley: Baanbrekend in ecologische democratie

Portretfoto van Robyn Eckersley
Prof. Robyn Eckersley

Robyn Eckersley, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia since 2007, is a trailblazer in environmental politics. Her 1992 book “Environmentalism and Political Theory: Toward an Ecocentric Approach was one of the first to argue for an ecocentric form of government, addressing the urgent need for a political system that can provide sustainable solutions in the face of climate change. And in the visionary "The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty", Eckersley proposes the democratic green state as the most logical solution. This is a state that commits to environmental protection in ways that are compatible with democracy.

Ecology, at the centre of democracy

“The core question in Eckersley’s oeuvre - what political and institutional innovations are needed to combat the effects of environmental and climate change - is as pressing as ever,” says Liesbeth van de Grift, Professor of International History and the Environment at Utrecht University and one of Eckersley’s promoters. “Utrecht University recognises Eckersley’s forward-looking vision to put the ecological question at the centre of our thinking about democracy, hoping to inspire new generations to embrace innovative ideas to make her plea a reality in the 21st century,” adds co-promoter Frank Biermann, Professor of Global Sustainability Governance with the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University.

Eckersley’s current research explores the relationship between right-wing populism and opposition to climate science and policy, seeking to identify climate policy options which are politically feasible even among those electorates, and underscoring the relevance of her work to contemporary challenges.

“We are eager to host and honour these distinguished scholars, known for informing and stimulating the public debate around this essential topic through cutting-edge research and provocative insights.”

Dies Natalis Celebration

The honorary doctorates will be conferred during the 388th Dies Natalis at the Dom Church on March 26, 2024. Utrecht University invites you to join in celebrating these distinguished scholars and their impactful contributions to academia and society.

See the full programme of our Dies Natalis